I first had Colcannon a month ago. I've made it four times since then. That's how much I like it. A lot.
Now that I write this, I'm not sure what I did for those twenty-four years before Adriana's mom brought this dish into my life. You all met Marcia during our Seven Sumptuous, Scrumptious Soups Week. She's the fiery spirit who birthed Adriana, and a barrel of unpredictable fun. It makes me happy that I get to see her every few months, because she lives considerably closer to me than Adriana does right now.
You never know what you'll be having when you go to dinner at Marcia's. Though, as her husband will attest, whatever the dish is, it will probably use most of the pots and pans in the house to make. Much to Bruce's chagrin, Marcia has a talent for using an exceptional amount of tools for most things she cooks. And I'm completely fine with that. When she feeds her friends and family this well, we really have no right to complain.
Some nights, dinner at Adriana's parents' house will consist of roast chicken. Sometimes you'll be in for a feast of fresh pita bread. And there will always be ample vegetables, the kind that make you moan and wonder how people can categorically dislike them. When you taste the vegetables Marcia makes, vegetable-hating will seem like blasphemy.
One of my favorite things about dinner at Marcia's house is the way she brings history and folklore into the foods she makes. Back when we were in junior high and Marcia was studying Arabic, many of her recipes came directly from her closest Middle Eastern friends. Marcia would tell you with great enthusiasm how the dish was usually made and how it came about historically. When she makes traditional American foods, you'll find her kitchen table littered with old books on colonial cooking. You'll wonder how she found these books, but then you'll realize that that's just the kind of person she is. And when she serves a sourdough bread, she's sure to regale you with tales of different starters and their history through the generations.
So it was that Marcia served Colcannon, my new obsession this winter. She told me it was Irish, which made sense, because it consists almost entirely of potatoes and cabbage. I wondered aloud at how incredibly, comfortingly sweet it tasted on my tongue, and she told me matter-of-factly that it was because she boiled the cabbage in milk. I tried very hard to memorize that nonsensical-sounding name of this new food, and then I returned home and started Googling.
It turns out Colcannon is a wonderfully flexible dish. As Marcia said, it's Irish, and it usually consists of potatoes, cabbage or kale, milk or cream, and butter. Some recipes add diced ham to the mix, or onions, scallions, or garlic. I make it my own way, and this includes keeping the potato skins on, because I love potato skins. No matter how you make it, it will almost surely turn out delicious. It will be the sort of simple food that you want to eat out of a bowl on Friday after a long work week. It will also be the sort of thing that you want to serve alongside corned beef, with a hearty scoop of sauerkraut. It will be the sort of dish that reminds you that there are people behind each recipe, and behind those people, wonderful cultures with absorbing histories.
Serves at least 6 as a side dish
6 yukon gold or red potatoes
6 leaves of cabbage, very roughly chopped
1/2 cup whole milk
4 Tb. butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Clean the potatoes very well, then place them in a pot and almost cover with water. Put the lid on the pot, bring to a boil, and boil for 45 minutes, or until the largest potato is easy to pierce all the way through with a fork.
Meanwhile, melt 2 Tb. of butter in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot. Add the cabbage and 1/4 tsp. of salt, and saute slowly, until the cabbage has turned bright green and a leaf with the vein gives when pierced with the fork. Add the milk and let the cabbage and milk just barely simmer for five minutes.
Drain the water from the potatoes, and mash them with the fork. Add one Tb. of butter and mash that in. This needn't be mashed perfectly, as the dish is meant to be hearty. Add the milk and cabbage mixture to the pot with the mashed potatoes, and mix thoroughly until the Colcannon is thick and creamy. Add a few grinds of pepper, and salt to taste. Serve with a small well in the middle of each serving, and place a dollop of butter there to melt.